Archives for posts with tag: adolescence

I remember the beginning of my face to face relationship with my daughter. The nurse put her in my arms. “Welcome to the world,” I said as I placed a tender kiss on her forehead. She was an utterly perfect clean slate full of infinite possibility.

As she grew, she changed and so did our relationship. By the time she was a four year old, she was lively, happy, brilliant, confident, independent but connected, and as sweet as could be. “This little girl is going to change the world someday,” I found myself thinking. She was a slate full of infinite happy and healthy positives.

Many parents of challenging teens rhapsodize about their children when they were younger and perhaps even exaggerate. But I can tell you, I was not alone in being in awe of this child and no, I’m not just talking about her loving father, my husband, John.

A major parenting challenge is when the slate of possibilities changes, for some children earlier than others but for most it certainly changes in adolescence. Teens create consequences, short and long-term than they can’t really fully appreciate as they are putting actions in motion. In other words, a common part of growing up is making foolish decisions that could make adulthood much different.

The slate gets dirty. There are still good possibilities but some scary painful possibilities join them. When we love our children and hold their happiness and dreams in our hearts, it can be all too easy to focus on the dirty parts of the slate. Plus, since adolescence is even harder for the teen than the parent, we get the punched in the gut feeling as we watch them struggle through tumultuous times.

I love my girl. She is still brilliant and lively. She is not always happy. She has highs and lows of confidence. She is still super sweet deep down and it is not rare for it to bubble back up to the surface. But to be honest, it is sometimes anxiety-provoking to introduce her to my friends. There is that worry that she will be obnoxious, provocative, anxious, or lacking in manners. She doesn’t really adjust her behavior much based on whether she is with adults or peers. You could be the Queen of England and there would be a chance that she would greet you with a brain rattling belch.

But the truth is that as unpredictable as she can be, adults actually tend to like her. I know that part of the embarrassment on my part, is the common sense that one’s child is the product of parenting. But that’s not all of it. I think that another piece is that she is different than she used to be and as she moves forward, her fate is less and less subject to my influence and protection.

The slate I see when I view my daughter is no longer clean. It is full of known positives, known negatives, and much gray that has not yet been elucidated by time. I look at her and I just don’t know. She is not like the joyful curious 4 year-old for whom my husband and I were the center of the universe. Time can take her away from her wishes and dreams. It can take her away from her own compass of right and wrong. It can take her away from us. It is very scary.

As a breast cancer patient, I have often felt like an adolescent. I have oft written about how the integration of cancer into my identity calls back to the original phase of my identity development during adolescence and early adulthood.

I have been reflecting a lot about my long time relationships and how breast cancer, and how I have changed in response to it, has impacted them. I am not the same person as I was before. And the slate of possibilities for my life has been dirtied by breast cancer. I realize that some have responded to me like a changeable teen. It is not a constant, but there is strain on some of my relationships and it is palpable. With some people I can feel it in my gut, even over two years past diagnosis. I am engendering fear through my association with cancer.

I have made a number of new friends through my breast cancer blogging. Sometimes these friendships seem like a vacation away. There is ease to them at times that is rare in most of my close relationships. I have been very grateful for this but at the same time, it’s seemed a little odd. And I think given how much writing there is in the breast cancer community about the perceived realness of cyber friendships, I believe I am not alone.

One of the reasons that it feels odd is that I feel small but perceptible twinges of disloyalty to my long time friends. Whee! Cyber-friends all the way!! Mostly, I have tried to appreciate and nurture friendships regardless of their origin and focus my efforts on those that are mutually supportive.

It occurred to me today that one of the reasons that new friendships have been so important to me is that none of them knew me before cancer. None of them have had to incorporate this into a pre-existing concept of me. So even though cancer is on my slate, I started with a dirty slate.

During most of my adult life, I have introduced myself to others with a smile and a handshake. I may talk about the weather or about casual pleasantries. As a blogger, I introduce myself to others with my illness. “Hi, I am a cancer patient. I write about personal and painful things. To relieve my anxiety about this, I sometimes make boob jokes.” Despite the the fact that I lead with my disease in this way, I have become part of an amazing community of people, which has led to other connections outside of the community. What a wonderful gift indeed.

My daughter attended a mindfulness retreat on the Washington coast last summer through Inward Bound Mindfulness Education (iBme). It is a national organization but some of the instructors live in Seattle. My daughter had a tremendous experience there. She felt completely accepted as a person. As she put it, “I liked everybody and everybody liked me!”

That’s a powerful experience for anybody but especially for a teen. The instructors for the retreat are volunteers. Two of them continue having teen mindfulness meetings every month in Seattle. That is also free.

I thought about sending them a note of gratitude but there are so many of them on their website, testimonials from grateful families. Then I thought about their whole volunteer set up and how tremendously talented they must be for so many teens to have such a wonderful experience.

So I set up a small but meaningful donation to repeat every month to help keep this group going.

Check out the group at the link above. They have teen and adult retreats. I would love to go to one of the adult retreats one day. Right now they are all on the East Coast, which would mean taking off an additional two days for travel time.

Last week I had one clinic day (Monday), followed by six days of painting and redecorating my private practice office. My daughter was also gone on a band trip during this time. So this week has been about transitioning back to my normal roles and routines. It was really hard, much harder than I expected. My brain was fragmented for several days.

Even more distressing was the fact that I felt really anxious and unsure of myself outside of work. This was particularly difficult socially, especially with my cyber friends. Cyber relationships do not have the same familiar codes and handshakes on which I gauge other social interactions. My cyber buddy, Greg Smith, wrote about the limitations that electronic communication put on his “Spidey Senses” in navigating his interactions with patients via Skype. He is an emergency department psychiatrist who practices telehealth in his job to provide consultation to patients who live far away from services. (As an aside, although my psychology practice is in Seattle, a “little big city”, the majority of my training was done in rural areas. Access to care is a major big deal.)

Earlier in the week, I found myself anxious that I’d written the wrong thing to one cyber friend or worrying that another cyber friend thought that I was a creepy stalker because a compliment I’d paid to her did not seem to go over in the way I had intended. I worried that I was being too flirtatious with cyber friends, male and female. I thought about what I might do to repair relationships that may have been damaged by my electronic awkwardness.

I have not felt that way for a VERY long time. What the heck is going on? I’ve had cyber buddies for awhile now and although I am sometimes frustrated by the limitations of this form of communication, there are benefits as well. When I write, I can communicate without interruption, for one. That is a major gift to me in this time of my life when some level of introspection is needed for health and healing. But I do miss the body language, tone of voice, or even hearing any of my cyber buddy voices. And I know in my own communications, the parts of me communicated beyond the words that I write or by my smile in the photos I post, are lost.

Last week, I dredged into some painful past experiences to write the post, Predator, about my own experiences with sexual harassment as a teen and how they relate to the sexualization of breast cancer.  If you’ve read the post, you know that the experiences I wrote about are very typical for women my age and most of the experiences still occur with girls and women today. The post resonated with a lot of women and I was very glad to have written it. I also suspected that it would help me integrate the vulnerability I have felt as a breast cancer patient to another time in my life when I felt scared and vulnerable.

I knew this would be a hard post to write and even waiting until my mother went on vacation to post it. I know that by the time she comes back home and reads it, I would have processed through the hard emotions and she would not have to worry about me so much. She had already suggested to me a couple of posts prior that I needed to take a break and write something light and/or funny. It’s hard to see one’s child in pain, even when she is 47 years-old.

Writing the post was harder than I expected and was like taking a time machine back to the worst parts of my adolescence with the extra layers of breast cancer and being a mother of a vulnerable teen girl.

Actually, let me put it this way. It was like being 16 again.

There are folks that rhapsodize about their youth and feel that they have lost something. Don’t get me wrong because I had a generally happy childhood and adolescence, but I am happy where I am. I have never had a stronger combination of individual, familial, and professional satisfaction than I have experienced in middle age. Emotionally, I feel so much more solid, as well. And this is not because my life has been easy in middle age. It is a benefit of maturity. My parents are very happy people who love their family, friends, and each other. They help me look forward to my future, should I be so lucky to live a long life.

Back to being 16 again. Do you all remember what your teens years were like with your peers? I don’t know about you, but although I had good friendships, they involved a frenzy of unnecessary activity. Worrying, “Did I say the right thing?” “Should I have said that?” (That was a popular one for me. I am loud and chatty.) “Should I have looked at him that way?” “Did I hurt her feelings?” Then I would go and try to repair things. Later in my life, a good friend would characterize my repair attempts as, “Elizabeth, you flail.” Now she has more of a passive, slug like coping style but in respect to the situation she was describing, I was totally and completely flailing when I should have been leaving things alone.

These days, I typically feel solid as a communicator. There are parts of me that can be perceived as being “too much” (see “loud and chatty”, above). This was particularly true in the past. I have learned to be myself with confidence and I think part of what bothered people about the big parts of my personality was the anxiety and lack of confidence that were sometimes underneath. Now I get a lot of compliments about my loud laugh and I can tell from patients and their parents that for the most part, they enjoy the fact that I am a happy person, eager to help, and a lover of my fellow human beings, especially the small ones. But I also know when I need to scale things back and tone them down. It’s a dance of a sort and in my profession, I am usually extremely good at it.

To be 16 again, was no fun. I saw Rebecca, my psychologist yesterday. The session may have only lasted an hour but by the time I left, I’d aged 31 years.

So cyber and face-to-face buddies, I am ready to play like a grown-up again.

Photo by Aaron Eidinger, 1983-ish. I am 17 or 18 in the photo.

Photo by Aaron Eidinger, 1983-ish. I am 17 or 18 in the photo.

 

 

Heart Sisters

For women living with heart disease

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

KomenWatch

Keeping our eyes and ears open.....

Life in a Wheelchair

You never think it could happen to you!

4 Times and Counting

Confessions Of A 4 Time Breast Cancer Survivor

Nancy's Point

A blog about breast cancer, loss & survivorship

After Twenty Years Cancer Research Blog

Exploring progress in cancer research from the patient perspective.

My Eyes Are Up Here

My life is not just about my chest, despite rumblings to the contrary.

Woman in the Hat

Cancer to Wellness in 1,038,769 Easy Steps!

SeasonedSistah2

Today is Better Than Yesterday

Telling Knots

About 30% of people diagnosed with breast cancer at any stage will develop distal metastasis. I am one.

The Pink Underbelly

A day in the life of a sassy Texas girl dealing with breast cancer and its messy aftermath

The Asymmetry of Matter

Qui vivra verra.

Fab 4th and 5th Grade

Teaching readers, writers, and thinkers

Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

making sense of the breast cancer experience together

Telling Knots

About 30% of people diagnosed with breast cancer at any stage will develop distal metastasis. I am one.

Entering a World of Pink

a male breast cancer blog

Luminous Blue

a mother's and daughter's journey with transformation, cancer, death and LOVE

Fierce is the New Pink

Run to the Bear!

The Sarcastic Boob

Determined to Manage Breast Cancer with the Same Level of Sarcasm with which I Manage Everything Else

FEC-THis

Life after a tango with death & its best friend cancer